Review: Go Baby Go - Baby Loves Jazz (Various Artists)

BabyLovesJazz.jpgThe creation of music industry veteran Andy Hurwitz, the supergroup Baby Loves Jazz is just one part of the Baby Loves Music empire. With Baby Loves Disco well-established and Baby Loves Reggae and Hip-Hop yet to come, who knows if Baby Loves Grime and Baby Loves Trip-Hop are next on the list. Released tomorrow, Go Baby Go! (2006) is the first of the Baby Loves... genres to make it to disk and it's a good first, er, baby step for the series. The Baby Loves Jazz supergroup includes John Medeski from Medeski Mertin & Wood, members from the jazz band Sex Mob, and other musicians with strong jazz backgrounds. The concept on this album is fairly simple -- take classic children's melodies and jazz-ify them. From the bebop version of "Old MacDonald" to the funk/soul of "Paw Paw Patch," the group puts their own take on the melodies and lyrics in the best jazz tradition. The vocals are especially strong on "ABC" and the fun original "Scat Song." Two of my favorite tracks are the slow and funky "Wheels on the Bus" and the frenetic title track, both of which feature kids on the choruses. (Listening to the kids shout "Round and round! / Round and round!" in "Wheels" puts a smile on my face every time. The 18-track, 51-minute album is not without some less-appealing moments. The interstitials, which introduce different instruments, are fun, but are placed before songs that don't build on the instruments mentioned (e.g., "The Piano" is followed by "Paw Paw Patch," which is played on an... organ). It's not bad, it's just an opportunity missed. And, frankly, I can do without the last 3 tracks, which are intended to be a calming, gateway to sleepy-time, but instead just drone on for way longer than necessary. Take out the last two tracks, and you'd have a fairly zippy 36-minute album. The songs will probably be most appealing to kids ages 2 through 8. You can listen to the modern sounds of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and tracks from the four simultaneously-released "Baby Loves Jazz" books here. Because it's being released by the well-regarded jazz label Verve Records, expect to find this in a lot of different places. People who think jazz ended when Miles went electric in 1969 may not appreciate all the tracks here (and, to be honest, I'm mostly in that category myself). But there are enough solid tracks to keep you traditionalists happy and if you (and your baby) like your jazz mixed with more modern elements of funk and soul, Go Baby Go! is an excellent addition to the small canon of jazz for kids. Recommended.

Chicago, Chicago, It's A Toddl(er)in' Town

So Lollapalooza and Kidzapalooza happen this weekend in Chicago. Like a few others, I was offered press passes, but I couldn't take advantage of them. Something about my son getting baptized this weekend. Sorry, Perry, maybe next year. But that doesn't mean I can't plot who I'd see were I actually there. (Which I'd really, really, like to be.) Now, if I were going on press passes for Kidzapalooza, I'd feel obligated to attend most of the Kidzapalooza shows, with certain exemptions: 1) I only need to see each artist once. 2) I'm entitled to miss one Kidzapalooza artist to catch a Lollapalooza show I'd absolutely hate to miss. I'd also note that this would be the solo version of the show -- were I actually with a 5- and 1-year-old and a wife, the number of shows I could check out would be greatly reduced... And apparently I don't need to eat... Friday, August 4 11:30 - 12:00 ScribbleMonster -- play the Michigan song! I love the Michigan song! 12:00 - 12:15 Remo Drum Circle -- kids. drums. chaos.

Review: What's Eatin' Yosi? - Yosi

WhatsEatinYosi.jpgScene: Two guys proceed through a Las Vegas buffet line. Let's call them, for sake of comprehension, Larry and Darryl. Larry: So, uh, what are you getting there? Darryl: I thought I might get that -- erp! -- new Yosi CD. Larry: In a buffet line? Since when do they have kids' CDs in a Vegas buffet line? Darryl: Haven't you heard? Kids' music is all the rage now. And Vegas is never one to miss out on a trend if it means some extra cash. So, yes, I'm getting the new Yosi CD, What's Eatin' Yosi?. Well, that and the crepes. Larry: Oh, the crepes are excellent. I recommend the deviled eggs, too. Darryl: Yeah, so anyway, this is like his fourth album and -- ooooh, are those California rolls? Gimme six of those! Anyway, get this, it's a theme album. All about food. Larry: A food album. Which we're talking about while we're in a buffet line. In Vegas, which never met a theme it couldn't turn into a hotel. Imagine that. Darryl: Stop with the snark, Larry. Yes. 16 tracks and 45 minutes about almost entirely about food. Larry: It's like your dream album, Darryl. Darryl: You're a bitter man, Larry. Try eating a little more, you'll be happier. Yeah, I'll have everything in that omelette. Larry: So do all the songs sound the same? Darryl: No, not at all. There's a rocking tune about "Chicken Noodle Soup," ("Oh, yeaaaahhhh") while "Bulbes" is done in a klezmer style... hey, where are the baked potatoes? Larry: Over there. Any songs you want to recommend to me? (Uh, no thanks, I'll pass on the Jello.) Darryl: Well, I really like the Zydeco stylings of the album opener, "Let's Get Cookin'," the punk thrash version of "On Top of Spaghetti," and his duet with Brady Rymer on Rymer's rootsy "Fresh Brown Eggs." Larry: And what should I stay away from? Darryl: Y'know, that "Schlurpknopf" story song really got on my nerves. And so did the opera-esque "It's a Pizza." Anything overly cute. But you know what? Larry: I'm not a mind-reader, so no. What? Darryl: It's possible to eat too much food. Like all this stuff here looks good -- ooh, chocolate pecan pie! -- but once you sit down and eat it in one setting, it seems a bit much. Ironically, my favorite song on the entire album is the album closer, "I Just Love You," which is the one song not about food. It's a gentle midtempo ragtime song. And it's so... refreshing... after fifteen straight very literal songs in a row about food -- even good ones -- to hear something not about food. Larry: So once I get back to my incredibly cramped hotel room, where could I get some samples? Darryl: Well, you could try the album's CDBaby page or for full versions of several songs, Yosi's page. Larry: Sounds like the album's probably -- BRA-AACK! Excuse me! -- best for kids ages 5 through 9? Darryl: Yep. What's Eatin' Yosi? might make you feel stuffed by the end, but there's enough good music on there worth listening to. I recommend it. Now, where's that French waffle line?...

That Blogging, I Hear It's Popular These Days

I've previously mentioned Brady Rymer's blog, which, though updated only sporadically, is a fun read. There are a few other musician-authored blogs I've been reading for weeks if not months now, and I've been failing in my kids-music-news duties by not mentioning them before. The best kids' musician-penned blog I know of is Monty Harper's blog, which includes links to his podcasts and gives some insight into the working world of a kids' musician. Harper's good humor, noticeable in his songs, is evident here, too. A couple other artists who have more recently started blogging, of a sort, are Eric Herman and Yosi. Both take a slightly different approach from Rymer and Harper -- they've focused (thus far) on other kids' music artists. Herman's blog talks generally about assorted kids' artists, both well-known (Ralph's World) and not, and why he's enjoyed them. Yosi's blog focuses more on specific albums that he reviewed for a parenting magazine in New Jersey. Harper has been blogging for a while now (longer than this site, even), so he understands what it takes to write a blog on an ongoing basis. We'll see whether Rymer, Herman, and Yosi want to keep it up. (And believe me, after that initial burst of expression, it's easy to let the blog just die a slow, painful death.) Now there are other ways to communicate with fans -- Justin Roberts is a fairly regular newsletter publisher, for example, and Dan Zanes' newsletters, while not as regular, always have a nugget or two of good (or fun or useless, or all three) info. And Myspace, of course, has its own blogging capabilities. But I'm actually surprised that more artists haven't plunged into the blogosphere. It does seem to me a fairly cheap and easy way to establish connections between the artist and the audience, especially one that may be growing, at least in terms of the ability of an artist to reach a national audience. Monty, Eric, Yosi, Brady -- has it helped? Or is it a useless, time-consuming pain in the rear?

Review in Brief: Scat Like That - A Musical Word Odyssey - Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have been nominated for 11 GRAMMY awards (winning two of them) and are talented musicians and songwriters in both kids' and non-kids fields. So how come I didn't adore Scat Like That!, their 2005 GRAMMY-nominated kids' album? There's nothing wrong with the album's execution -- the musicianship and production are strong -- and the concept is intriguing, focusing on all sorts of wordplay. And there are some very good songs amidst the wide-ranging musical styles used here. My favorite is Marxer's midtempo blues number "Dagnabbit!," which matches Marxer's expressive vocals to amusing lyrics about a kid who let the wrong word slip out in a moment of frustration ("I need some words with consonants / To say what I must say / Words with B and D and P / And S and T and K"). I particularly liked the song's 2-minute musical outro. I also find it hard not to like a song titled "I Love Pie" which is set to a Latin meringue melody. (I don't care if it's not a meringue -- though I'm pretty sure it is -- "pie" and "meringue" is too good not to believe.) I think what makes me so blase' about the album is the feeling that the disk's educational thrust (it is an album about wordplay after all) was getting in the way of enjoying it. The best songs -- "Dagnabbit!" or "A Pirate's Song," perhaps -- would fit on any album of good kids' music and the wordplay themes of those songs are just happy byproducts of the songs themselves. In this case, it doesn't reach the manic heights of their excellent 2001 collaboration with Brave Combo, All Wound Up!. The album is best for kids ages 6 through 10, especially if they're into words and all the fun things one can do with them.

Please Release Me: August 2006 Edition

I skipped July, didn't I? Slacker. Well, it would've been a short list (at the time, anyway). But August? August is shaping up as a little more crowded... August 1: Go Baby Go - Baby Loves Jazz (Various Artists) August 1: If I Could Be... - Meredith Brooks August 8: A World of Music - Toucan Jam August 8: What's Eatin' Yosi? - Yosi (national release) August 22: Marvelous Day - Stevesongs (re-release on Rounder Records -- say that three times fast) August 29: You Are My Little Bird - Elizabeth Mitchell (on Smithsonian Folkways) But wait, there's more! September will see the release of new stuff from Trout Fishing in America and ScribbleMonster (maybe). And then there's October, October 3rd in particular, which is shaping up to be a very crowded release date. The third album from Milkshake, Play. [Edit: I've been told the album may come out just a leeeetle bit later.] The third album from The Sippy Cups, which has, hands-down, the best kids' music album name of the year, Electric Storyland. And the DVD/CD release from Ralph's World, Welcome to Ralph's World. Actually, I've seen that listed on various e-tailers' sites as both 10/3 and 10/10, so it could be either. We shall see...